Fashion Revolution Week is the world’s largest fashion activism event to drive social and environmental justice through collaboration and raising marginalised voices to progress towards a fair, safe, and transparent fashion industry.

We, at the THRREADS Project, seized this opportunity to harness the ‘power of the collective’ and make our voice a little louder during 2024’s ten-year anniversary of Fashion Revolution Week.

The THRREADS project: Transforming Responsive and Relational Autonomy in the Garment Sector of The United Kingdom and Bangladesh, is a collaborative initiative spearheaded by researchers from the University of Essex (Shoba Arun, Shaila Ahmed, Thankom Arun, Shahidul Islam and Nicolae Radulescu), University of Derby (Samsul Aslam), Manchester Metropolitan University (Patsy Perry), and the Universal College Bangladesh (Mohammed Ismail Hossein), in collaboration with worker/community organisations and garment sector federations.

We join the burgeoning call for a more responsible and sustainable garment industry. It is well documented how the global garment industry, from the Global South to the Global North, faces common challenges in bringing about sector-wide change, from fair business agreements to fair workplaces, from the just use of resources as well bringing a more ethical and conscious mindset to consumerism, fashion, and work. Across garment production sites in Leicester and Dhaka, we will work to reframe narratives around the garment sector through shared learnings from manufacturers and suppliers, brands, workers, worker organisations and industry associations for a well-rounded impact in our local and global contexts to signal a responsible and sustainable sector.

By focusing on the garment hubs of Leicester, UK, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, alongside community partners such as FAB-L and ATMF in Leicester and the Green Bangla Garment Workers Federation and SRS in Dhaka, we embark on a mission to foster positive, sustainable transformations within the garment and fashion industry. Over the course of the next three years, we aim to promote practices and learning around economic and social sustainability while enhancing autonomy in the workplace.

Kicking off the THRREADS Project during Fashion Revolution Week

In Leicester, we were joined by many stakeholders at the Fashion-workers Advice Bureau Leicester (FAB-L) to convene for the THRREADS project kick-off. We met in the Highfields Centre in the heart of Leicester, which was established in 1974 and serves as a vital community hub in Leicester. We were warmly welcomed by the Centre team with hot snacks, coffee, tea and heartwarming smiles that combine a lot of passion to help their local community. Our partners from Dhaka also joined online in a true hybrid style, crossing the physical imaginary to participate in the grand vision of the project.

Shoba Arun, our PI, welcomed all those present (onsite and online), setting out our ambitions for the project. Then Priya Thamotheram on behalf of the Highfields Centre, gave an inspiring overview of their history, their activities and networks in and around the city and the role of FAB-L in supporting the local community and workers of Leicester. The long history of the Centre, managed by the Highfields Community Association (HCA), focuses on serving Leicester's population and acts as a community anchor and advocacy organisation for the Highfields area and beyond.

We were extremely pleased to hear voices of garment manufacturers, with representation of Saj Khan, founder of the Apparel & Textile Manufacturers Federation (ATMF), set up to be a voice for suppliers and manufacturers. He gave an overview of Leicester's garment industry which boasts a rich history, dating back to the 19th century. Initially fuelled by the city's strategic location and access to raw materials, the industry flourished, with factories sprouting across the city. It gained a positive reputation for speed to market but in recent years has faced scrutiny due to damning reports of labour exploitation and unsafe working conditions as a result of the fast fashion race to the bottom. He explained how the impacts of Brexit, Covid-19 and the negativity surrounding poor working conditions have taken a huge toll on the sector, reducing the total number of factories operating in Leicester, affecting businesses and workers alike. He called for a renewed effort in rejuvenating support for the local industry and a cultural shift in attitudes to consumerism and fast fashion.

Dr Masrur Reaz, CEO of The Policy Exchange in Dhaka, one of the key project advisors with a wealth of experience working with international institutions, followed by presenting the challenges for the garment sector in Bangladesh and the significance of the THRREADS project. He outlined how by adopting circular economy principles, such as recycling fibres and harnessing renewable energy, Bangladesh has the potential to diversify its apparel products and leverage global collaborations for sustainable growth. Strategic partnerships with countries such as Japan and South Korea could facilitate the transition away from cotton towards the use of Manmade Fibres (MMF) and enhance the country's negotiation prowess in the international market. He emphasised how closer collaboration between industry stakeholders and government authorities is essential for streamlining import-export processes and advocating for trade facilitation improvements. Addressing issues such as incomplete lists of HS Codes and facilitating trade logistics will create a more robust and competitive business environment.

Prioritising the welfare of garment workers, especially women, is paramount for sustainable growth. Initiatives such as Bunon 2030 in Bangladesh aim to empower female garment workers through skills development programmes and holistic support. It is important that collaborations between factories and universities can ensure technical proficiency among graduates, preparing them for evolving industry demands.

Tarek Islam leads the Fashion-workers Advice Bureau Leicester (FAB-L), which provides free and confidential support and advice to fashion, garment, and textile workers in Leicester. He explained how FAB-L aims to empower workers by helping with a wide range of issues, including workers' rights, benefits advice, housing conditions, legal matters, and more. Through its services, FAB-L seeks to address the longstanding grievances faced by garment workers and contribute to the revitalisation of Leicester's garment industry. Despite challenges, organisations such as FAB-L have emerged to advocate for worker rights and sustainable practices within the industry.

The lunch meetings with all stakeholders provided a crucial interlude for networking and forging alliances. It was a welcome pause, especially as it came with delicious snacks and biriyani, with a choice of vegan and meat options and mouth-watering desserts to finish, all reflecting the rich food heritage of the city.

As the day progressed, the focus shifted towards events planning and soliciting input from garment worker participants. Their voices, often marginalised but brimming with narratives of experience of the garment sector, echoed through the halls, reminding everyone of the human stakes involved. The subsequent discussions under Any Other Business (AOB) elucidated the roles and responsibilities and commitment from all stakeholders for project success. From social media planning to coordinating with the Dhaka team, every detail was meticulously crafted to ensure seamless execution.

The kick-off meeting culminated in a tea and close session, symbolising not just the end of a day but the beginning of a shared journey towards transformative change. The slides presented throughout the day served as visual signposts, guiding participants through the intricate web of plans and aspirations.

This blog post reflects merely a snapshot of the day’s proceedings—a mere glimpse into the collective determination and vision that permeated every discussion. Behind the statistics, timelines and deliverables lies a deeper narrative—a story of resilience, solidarity, and unwavering commitment to a sustainable business model with strong local roots and heritage.

We are grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council for supporting our project. For more information on THRREADS, please contact us by email